Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Summer Salads

Janet here: One of the stories of my childhood that was told repeatedly around family gathering dinner tables — sometimes to great embarrassment, depending on my age and who was at the table — was of me and my grandmother Doree's potato salad. I really loved my grandmother's potato salad. I mean really loved it. One day while visiting my grandmother when I was around 4, I decided I didn't want to wait until it was time for dinner to dig into this delicious concoction. So I wandered out to the kitchen, climbed up on a chair and dug in, using the serving spoon that was already in the salad. I was a happy camper ... until my grandmother discovered me and put a stop to the dining — and promptly told all the relatives who were there what I was doing. And so a family tale is born.

I've basically been trying to recreate that potato salad ever since. I pay attention to potato salads at restaurant and am quick to dismiss the substandard mayo-y glop that passes for potato salad after one bite. My mom made a good version, but nothing has quite equaled the ambrosia I remember from my childhood. I'm not sure I've recreated Doree's version, but I'm pretty happy with the one I have created. I hope you enjoy it too. As with many of my recipes, these measurements are approximations. You should feel free to add or delete, depending on your taste. After all, isn't tasting what you're making part of the fun of cooking?

Potato Salad
makes about 8 side servings


4 Russet potatoes, skins on, and diced into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, diced
3 celery stalks, slit lengthwise and diced
2 kosher dill pickle spears, slit lengthwise and diced
1 tablespoon kosher dill pickle juice
1 tablespoon mustard
1/2-3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste


Boil the potato pieces until just done, about 5-10 minutes. You don't want them overcooked or you will have potato mush

While the potatoes are cooking, dice the onion and celery and place into a large bowl. Add the other ingredients except the salt and pepper.

When the potatoes are done, drain and rinse immediately in cold water to stop the cooking. Add the cooled potatoes to the other ingredients, toss and add salt and pepper to taste. I like my potato salad crunchy so at this point, I take the first of a few (okay maybe several) bites to make sure I've got enough celery in there. If not, I add another diced stalk.

This is best served cold so make it ahead of time. I always taste again before serving to see if I want to add more caraway, mustard or mayo — at least that's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Rachel here: Ok, so before I go any further, I just have to say that my ma makes seriously grubbing potato salad. Growing up, I used to eat it with my fingers out of the fridge when I'd walk through the kitchen. I think I'm going to have to make her make it for me when she comes out to visit and meet the baby.

But anyway, I didn't make potato salad and so, though I'm dreaming of my mom's, I guess I'd better share the salad that I did make. I'm calling it Spring Bean Salad, though if you live in a less temperate climate it might really be a summer bean salad depending on when the various ingredients I use come into season. Regardless, it's a super easy and delicious dish. And, though it's not my ma's potato salad, I've still been picking at it when I walk through the kitchen all day.

Spring Bean Salad
serves 10 generously as a side

3 c. cannellini beans (if using canned, rinse and dry well; if cooking them yourself, be sure not to overcook)
1/2 c. kalamata olives, halved
2 medium cucumbers, chopped
1 smallish red onion, diced very small (but not minced)
4-5 large basil leaves, torn (I tear basil instead of cutting it because cutting it releases its delicious oils onto your knife and cutting board. When torn, everything ends up in your food.)
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 c. feta, crumbled
8 oz. mozzarella, chopped
juice from 1 large and 1 small lemon
salt and pepper
olive oil
apple cider vinegar

Put all of the ingredients from the beans through the mozzarella in a large bowl. Toss by hand (this is a gentler way to combine ingredients and will help everything hold up since there are largely soft foods involved). Add lemon juice, salt and pepper, olive oil and apple cider vinegar to taste. Toss well and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate for a few hours so everything settles. Enjoy!

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